Reinventing fire detection in food facility cold storage

Honeywell Building Solutions

Wednesday, 28 April, 2021

Reinventing fire detection in food facility cold storage

While the threat of a fire may seem minimal in subzero temperatures, serious risk factors exist in food industry cold storage facilities as most stored goods and delivery materials (boxes, pallets, packaging) are combustible.

The environment is dry, with low humidity, and contains multiple ignition sources. Additionally, the building’s insulated walls and ceiling can retain a fire’s heat, potentially furthering its spread, and high airflow can disperse smoke throughout the refrigerated space.

Fire in cold storage facilities

Causes of fire in cold storage facilities can include problems with electrical distribution, lighting equipment, transport equipment faults (conveyors), maintenance operations (hot work) and arson.

The cost of a fire goes far beyond the loss of the building structure and materials. The perishable nature of the goods, whether meat, produce or dairy, commonly stored in freezers or coolers, makes it essential to avoid any rise in temperature. Heat from a fire or a temperature rise due to refrigeration system downtime following a fire can result in significant stock spoilage and revenue loss. Even a spark or smoke from an emerging fire can lead to costly losses if not detected and managed early. Food products exposed to even low levels of smoke over time can be contaminated and therefore unusable.

Losses caused by downtime, operation interruption, business reputation and goodwill can also be significant.

Solving fire detection challenges

Refrigerated storage facilities can present challenges in fire detection.

“Traditional spot detectors are not designed to operate in food industry subzero temperatures,” said Khaleel Rehman, Director of Development for the Advanced Detection Fire Team at Honeywell.

According to Rehman, the subzero temperatures and heavy icing associated with cold storage may degrade the performance and operation of conventional detection systems, particularly in large-volume, high-ceiling cold storage settings.

Fortunately, protecting life and inventory is much easier for even the largest food processing cold storage facilities as aspirating smoke detection (ASD) technology becomes more widely adopted. Far from new, the core ASD technology has been used for decades in critical applications like data centres, where early smoke detection is critical. The combination of programmable alarm threshold levels and the advantage of extracting the air sample out of a harsh environment makes ASD a suitable solution for these facilities.

Honeywell said that compared to traditional spot smoke detectors, aspirating smoke detectors can improve a warehouse by detecting smoke at the earliest possible stage via numerous sampling points, while reducing false alarms and maintenance.

According to Rehman, for food industry cold storage applications, the Honeywell VESDA VEU aspirating smoke detectors are well suited. The system draws air samples in a continuous process through holes in long runs of durable industrial pipe mounted along the walls and ceiling.

“Cold storage requires superior smoke and fire detection systems with a performance-based design approach like the VESDA VEU, designed to reliably operate in adverse, subzero conditions,” said Rehman.

“It can detect smoke at the very earliest stages when standard detection systems cannot. Compared to traditional detection systems using heat signatures, it can detect smoldering smoke significantly faster.”

Image credit: ©

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